Liver Cirrhosis – Understanding Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Risk Factors, and Prevention
Liver is the unsung hero of the human body, working tirelessly to filter toxins, produce essential proteins, and store energy. But when the liver is damaged, its ability to perform these critical functions can be compromised. One such condition is liver cirrhosis. Liver cirrhosis is a severe illness that has a significant impact on an individual’s health. In fact, it is currently the 11th leading cause of death globally, affecting millions of people. Unfortunately, the number of liver cirrhosis cases is only increasing with time, making it a critical public health concern.
What is cirrhosis of the liver?
Cirrhosis of the liver is a severe and irreversible ailment characterised by the replacement of healthy liver tissue with scar tissue. The liver is an important organ that executes several vital tasks in the body, such as blood filtration, bile production, and nutrient storage. If the liver becomes damaged or scarred, it loses its ability to perform optimally, which may result in grave health issues.
Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression of the disease and improve outcomes.
Did you know that liver cancer is one possible complication of liver cirrhosis?
What causes cirrhosis of the liver?
- Alcohol: Cirrhosis of liver is caused by chronic intake of alcohol. Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can damage liver cells, leading to inflammation and the build-up of scar tissue.
- Chronic hepatitis C: It is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver, leading to liver damage and scarring.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): It is a condition in which excess fat builds up in the liver, leading to inflammation and scarring.
- Chronic hepatitis B: Chronic hepatitis B is another viral infection that can cause inflammation and damage to the liver.
- Autoimmune hepatitis: It is a condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the liver, leading to inflammation and scarring.
- Inherited liver diseases: Certain inherited liver diseases, such as hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease, can lead to cirrhosis over time.
- Biliary disorders: The bile ducts that carry bile from the liver get obstructed, leading to liver damage and eventually cirrhosis.
What are the symptoms of cirrhosis of the liver?
In the early stages of cirrhosis, there may be no symptoms. The liver cirrhosis symptoms can vary depending on the stage and severity of the disease, but some common symptoms include:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal swelling and pain
- Leg Swelling
- Confusion, altered sensorium
- Blood Vomitings (Hematemesis)
- Black colored stools (melena)
What is the best treatment for liver cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis is an irreversible condition. Liver cirrhosis treatment can help in managing symptoms, slowing the progression of the disease, and preventing complications.
Here are some treatment options that can help manage liver cirrhosis:
- Treating the underlying cause: If the underlying cause of liver cirrhosis is known, such as alcohol abuse, viral hepatitis or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), the treatment should target the cause. This may include lifestyle changes, alcohol abstinence, losing weight or medications to treat viral hepatitis.
- Medications: Medications can help manage the complications of liver cirrhosis. For example, diuretics can help reduce fluid build-up in the body, beta-blockers can help prevent bleeding from enlarged blood vessels in the oesophagus and lactulose can help reduce the build-up of toxins in the body.
- Liver transplant: In severe cases, a liver transplant may be necessary. A liver transplant involves replacing the damaged liver with a healthy one from a donor.
- Dietary changes: People with liver cirrhosis should follow a healthy and balanced diet that is low in salt and fat. Eating a diet rich in proteins and whole grains can help improve liver function.
- Lifestyle changes: Making healthy lifestyle choices, such as limiting alcohol consumption and avoiding drugs that can damage the liver, can help prevent further damage to the liver.
The best treatment for liver cirrhosis depends on the underlying cause and severity of the disease.
Risk factors of liver cirrhosis
Some of the most common risk factors associated with liver cirrhosis include chronic alcohol abuse, chronic viral hepatitis (Hepatitis B and C), non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), autoimmune hepatitis, inherited disorders, bile duct disorders, chronic exposure to toxins, obesity, and certain medications. However, not everyone with these risk factors will develop liver cirrhosis, and there may be other factors involved in the development of the disease. It is important to be aware of these risk factors and to take preventive measures, such as reducing alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting vaccinated for hepatitis B, to reduce the risk of developing liver cirrhosis.
Prevention of liver cirrhosis
Liver cirrhosis is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition, but there are steps one can take to reduce the risk of developing it. Here are some ways to prevent liver cirrhosis:
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B
- Practise safe sex
- Avoid sharing needles
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Engage in physical activities such as running
- Avoid excessive use of NSAIDS (pain killers)
Finally, liver cirrhosis is a complex disease that requires a comprehensive approach to manage effectively. By staying informed and taking proactive steps to manage the disease, one can improve the quality of life and reduce the risk of complications from liver cirrhosis. It is advised to reach out to the doctor if one suspects they may have liver cirrhosis, as early detection and treatment are key to a successful outcome. Together, with the right support and care, we can take control of our health and overcome the challenges of liver cirrhosis.
- Global Epidemiology of Chronic Liver Disease
- Cirrhosis of the Liver
- Cirrhosis and Your Liver
About Author –
Dr. Krishnagopal Bhandari,Consultant Gastroenterologist, Hepatologist and Interventional Endoscopist, Yashoda Hospitals - Hyderabad
MD (Internal Medicine), DNB (Gastroenterology)